Mindstar RisingI’ve read quite a bit of Peter Hamilton (as I’ve described before) lately. So recently I stumbled on two volumes (the first and last, Mindstar Rising and The Nanoflower) of his earliest trilogy. These books have some of his strengths, but not all, and they’re certainly rough around the edges (besides having among the cheesiest of examples of cover art in recent SF history–I mean, the macho 22nd-Century secret agent in a Guess jacket, moussed hair, and a digital watch!), but it’s always fun to see a good writer at an early stage, before he gets the full confidence to do his real work. There’s an excellent portrait of a post-global-warming, post communist, neo-capitalist, England.

His protagonist, Greg Mandel, in these books uses a couple of phrases over and over again, and I’m wondering if they’re common British English, or just Mandel/Hamilton English. I’ve never heard them used before. The first of these, “no messing,” means (obviously) something like “seriously,” or “no shit.” Like “this is a bad situation, no messing.” And the other one is less unusual, but still I kept catching my toe on it, so to speak. He has several characters consistently say “telling you” as an intensifier (similar to “no messing”). So there are sentences like “telling you, Lisa’s in a bad way, no messing.”

There are other Britishisms that I recognize, and have seen before, and they’re just a fun flavor. But those two really did keep disturbing me–I couldn’t seem to read through them transparently.

Among the more familiar ones, too, there’s one that I’ve always wondered about. Where American English would use “it’s up to me” (or “you” or “them” or whatever), the British English version is always “it’s down to me” (as in the well-known lyric from the Stones’ “Under My Thumb”) to mean “it’s my responsibility” or “fault” or “depends on me.” That one gets me very curious. Why the divergence? Where and when did it come from? Neither usage carries a particularly apparent logical or semantic advantage–it seems just arbitrary. But why are they down and we up? Puzzling!